Researchers, including Amit Kumar from the University of Texas at Austin in the US, asked participants to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something nice for them and then anticipate the recipient’s reaction.
They found that letter writers overestimated how awkward recipients would feel about the gesture and underestimated how surprised and positive recipients would feel.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that the gesture improved well-being for not only letter writers but recipients as well. “What we saw is that it only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these, thoughtful ones and sincere ones,” said Kumar. “It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect,” he said.
Researchers said anxiety about what to say or fear of their gesture being misinterpreted causes many people to shy away from expressing genuine gratitude. “It is more fundamental to how the human mind works and a well-established symmetry about how we evaluate ourselves and other people,” said Kumar.
“When we are thinking about ourselves, we tend to think about how competent we are, and whether we are going to be articulate in how we are expressing gratitude,” he said.
Kumar said what is significant about the research and its results is that thank-you notes and letters of gratitude should be written and sent more often.